W.A. community virtual power plant confirms $50m Swiss investment

Swiss investment firm SUSI Partners last week confirmed it would invest $A50 million into a residential solar-plus-battery storage project being developed by Perth-based Starling Energy Group, which it boasts will be the world’s largest Virtual Power Plant (VPP).

The investment was first announced back in July after the two companies reached an agreement to fund the project, but SUSI Partners announced confirmation of the $50 million last week. The asset manager is aiming to build Australia’s largest portfolio combining rooftop solar PV and battery storage systems.

“This new investment exemplifies our holistic approach in financing the energy transition,” explained Matteo Zanni, Director at SUSI Partners.

“By combining a community-focussed solution with the optionality of a VPP configuration, we place people at the center of the energy transition, while delivering fully contracted returns.”

The July announcement also revealed Starling Energy as SUSI Partners preferred global developer for VPP projects, installation manager, and VPP operator. In turn, SUSI Partners will be the sole financier to the projects.

“We’re really excited by what this agreement means. It will allow everyday West Australians to transform our energy system as fast as it takes to sign up online,” said Brian Innes, Starling Energy’s Managing Director, speaking in July.

“Our planet is at crisis point – we must act now. By ending our reliance on traditional fossil power that contributes drastically to climate change, we now have a viable cleaner option by harnessing the energy of the sun.”

“We worked closely with Starling Energy and our advisors to reach this milestone,” Matteo Zanni added in July.

“This architecture represents a new and exciting way of supporting the energy transition, enabling local communities to benefit from clean energy, while providing contracted revenues for our investors.”

The specific project to be funded by the confirmed $A50 million is Starling’s Plico Energy Virtual Power Plant system, which is designed to “[put] communities at the centre of the energy transition, with plans to expand the scheme to other parts of the country from mid-2020.”

The Plico Energy system will provide clean energy to W.A. households through a fully managed energy service, to be managed by Starling Energy, which will include home-installed solar panels and battery storage.

Participating residents will be provided with rooftop solar systems and battery storage – along with maintenance and management services – which will in turn link together to create a Virtual Power Plant with the objective of supporting the local grid.

According to Plico, the VPP would theoretically be able to provide 6.5MW of solar at peak, 7.2GWh of energy per year, and displace 7 kilotonnes of carbon emissions every year, allowing all community members to achieve 90% renewable energy consumption.

However, these figures are based on 1,000 systems being linked together – in practice, it is unclear whether there will be any variability to these figures. Each standard installation would include a 5 KVA Redback Inverter System, a 6.6kW Suntech 275-watt solar PV system, and a 7.2kW Pylontech battery.

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